“Trump’s American dystopia has reached a new and ominous cliff,” warns a CNN opinion headline. “The last two and a half months in America have felt like the opening montage in a dystopian film about a nation come undone,” writes New York Times columnist Michele Goldberg, in describing the images of militarized police storming U.S. cities to put down protests in the days following George Floyd’s murder, which came on the heels of two months of pandemic, panic, and widespread economic collapse. A very popular post published elsewhere on Medium was titled, bluntly, “America is a Dystopia.”
There is a lot of dystopia talk getting tossed around right now, for reasons that probably seem obvious. Those images we’ve all spent hours staring at on Twitter and cable TV — the military vehicles patrolling suburban streets, the lines of tactical vested officers cordoned around the Lincoln Memorial, the scenes of tear gas blurring flames as masked protesters clash with armed police — match up reasonably well with the aesthetics and broad strokes of a genre that we’ve spent the last 10 years staring at on Netflix and the other channels on cable TV.
But this is not “Trump’s American dystopia.” It is the continued, if inflamed, dystopian state of play as it has laid for centuries. The montage of horrors did not begin only a few months ago or when a cohort of privileged observers suddenly became aghast at the SWAT howitzers and brutal policing tactics when they were seen on suburban streets.
Years of toothless and profitable pop culture dystopias have primed consumers to ignore race, helping to obscure the fact that the real dystopia arrived long ago.
Comparing America to a dystopia has become something of a national pastime.
If we wanted to get pithy about it, we might say that the 2010s were the dystopia decade, a period that saw both the rise of dystopia as a reliably profitable and uniform entertainment format in mass culture and what appeared to be the IRL manifestation of the images and tropes the genre broadcast by decade’s end. The Hunger Games rose to dominate box offices and spawned a follow-on flotilla of similarly…